To Meal or Not To Meal? That Is the Question.

That’s right, I’m going to fuel the ever-burning fire of the meal vs. non-meal seminar debate!  This is one of the most common questions I get from advisors when they are planning out their seminar marketing: “Matt, why would I serve a meal?" Ok, so if you know me, you know I’m pro-meals.  That doesn’t mean that I don’t believe in non-meal seminars; sure I do.  I know they can work and they can be profitable; not denying that.  But here’s my point: If you put me in front of the two groups of people and I had the chance to conduct both a meal and a non-meal seminar, I would gather more new clientele and assets from the meal seminar, almost every time.  Here are 3 reasons why:
  1. More time.  This is the biggest and most important reason I’m pro-meals.  When you serve dinner (which you should ALWAYS do after the presentation, not during), you have locked down the room for at least 30 minutes.  A good advisor and a good team knows that they can accomplish a lot of appointment setting in 30 minutes. The best advisors I work with either stick around and work the room, or they have rock-solid staff that go table to table, strike up conversation, and BOOK APPOINTMENTS.  Yes, this works, and no, it’s not pushy.  As long as you do it the right way, it can be the most profitable 30 minutes of the entire evening.  Guess what, people can’t wait to leave the library after your non-meal seminar.
  2. Guilt.  More people are going to show up to the meal seminar, because you pre-ordered the food.  You can use this as leverage.  Think of it this way. Have you ever RSVP’d to a wedding and sent in the card saying you wanted steak?  Undoubtedly, the day of the wedding you find yourself poolside about 3 beers deep and suddenly realize you have to stop relaxing, go get on a suit, and go to the wedding or you’ll be late. And for a split second you consider not going.  “The bride and groom will be too busy to notice I’m not there… they’ll never know.” And then you remember the steak.  Boom.  You are going to show up to that damn wedding, whether you like it or not, because that lonely piece of meat on the table has your name all over it.  The same holds true for meal seminars.  You can accomplish the same guilt factor to boost your attendance ratio.  I’ve been tracking this for years, and that’s how it is.  I train staff almost every week on how to accomplish all of this over a 2-step phone process before seminar night.
  3. Meal venues are nicer.  Yes they are, if you do it right.  If you do seminars at public libraries or community centers, I promise you that the venues my best advisors conduct their meal seminars at are more comfortable, inviting, and impressive. They aren’t your garbage restaurants serving the rubber chicken dinner.  They are at nice places your affluent clients actually dine at, and they serve good food that people want to enjoy and savor throughout the evening.  All while they bask in the perfect environment you’ve created for them to mingle and talk about how great your presentation was.  Pretty sure this isn’t happening at the library.
You may have heard me say before that small hinges swing big doors. This holds true for these three small things that all positively impact seminar metrics.  Here’s how: Nicer venues + meal = MORE RSVPs (translation, more butts in seats) Meal + Guilt = HIGHER ATTENDANCE RATIOS (translation, more butts in seats) More Time = MORE APPOINTMENTS SET (translation, more people coming in to meet with you) It’s that simple.  If at the beginning of this blog I asked you if I could show you ONE THING that would get you MORE RSVPs, HIGHER ATTENDANCE RATIOS, and MORE APPOINTMENTS out of your next seminar, you would be clamoring for the secret.  And it’s that simple:  Serve a meal. Disclaimer: If the word “plate licker” is at all going through your mind right now, here’s what I have to say, GET OVER IT.  Your competition is having no problem with meal seminars! 

10 Simple Steps to Instant Seminar Success!

For years, successful advisors have worked the seminar marketplace to obtain new clients for their financial planning practices.  Seminars have been the marketing backbone of the majority of the best producers I work with on a day-to-day basis.  Over the years, I’ve compiled some basic tips and tricks to conducting the most effective seminar, and netting the highest appointment to household ratio possible.
  1. Dress to Impress! – Don’t forget, you are a financial PROFESSIONAL.  If you don’t consider yourself a professional, stop reading this article now.  Gentlemen, wear a suit and tie, and make sure it doesn’t look like you purchased it in the late 1980s.  You don’t ever want a seminar attendee to be able to say, “Nice suit! Who shot the couch?”  Yes, avoid plaid and “couch cushion” like patterns.  Remember, your tie should always be longer than your shirt sleeves.  No copy-machine repair man uniforms!  Ladies, dress professionally and keep it conservative.  I don’t think I need to go into detail here about what is not appropriate for a lady to wear.  Remember you are a professional.  Dress the part.
  2. Show Up. If You’re Not Early, You’re Late! – Plan on being at the meeting room, restaurant, or facility at least a couple of hours beforehand.  I’ve heard many horror stories about advisors having traffic issues, vehicle breakdowns, appointments running late, etc. Bottom line, these attendees have taken time out of their busy schedules to be on time for you. Make sure you do whatever you need to do to be there.  Give yourself a couple of hours of cushion so you can make sure the room is ready and the technology is in place.  Nobody wants to be “that guy” that can’t figure out how to get his PowerPoint open and has to have Joe Engineer in the audience to assist.
  3. If You Serve a Meal, Wait Until After the Presentation – I don’t care what anybody has told you in the past. Food and beverage service during the seminar is a distraction.  Instruct the facility staff to stay out of the room until the presentation is over.  Avoid beverage service during the event.  Let the attendees know on the phone when you are making confirmation calls that they should show up 15 minutes early to get their food and beverage selection ordered.
  4. Control the Room – As much as you want to show how quick you are on your feet and how you can handle any situation, I would advise AGAINST taking questions at the event.  I’ve found that the best seminars (when I say best, I mean those with the highest appointment request to household ratio) are the ones that don’t involve any Q&A.  If you don’t know the best way to position this at the beginning of the seminar, contact me directly and I will teach you how to set the stage.  I know one of the best stories in the industry that will actually lead to the attendees respecting you MORE because you DON’T take their questions at the event.
  5. Paint the Picture – It’s important to story-sell as many details discussed at the seminar as possible. When you are discussing different items in the intro and the close (who you are, what you do, how you help people, what the appointment is like), it is important to paint as descriptive a picture as you can.  The goal here is to eliminate as many barrier walls of fear as possible.  They need to understand and believe that you don’t work out of the trunk of your car and you are legit.  If you have pictures of your office, show them off!  I’ve been to many awesome offices and you should be proud of the environment you’ve created.  When you can show them a clean, professional, and safe environment, you will eliminate another barrier wall of fear.  You never know, they could envision you as having a dirty office in a bad part of town with a receptionist that collects stray cats and chain smokes behind the desk.  Show them, don’t just tell them. That’s not who you are.
  6. Have Somebody Introduce You at the Seminar – This could be done a number of ways. I’ve seen junior advisors/partners introduce, and I’ve even seen a CPA or an attorney do it.  Bottom line is, your credibility is boosted by a simple introduction.  Make sure you prep the introducer well in advance.  Give them time to perfect their script and don’t make it a last-minute decision, or you might as well introduce yourself to embarrassment.
  7. Step 1: Rehearse. Step 2: Keep Rehearsing – Don’t be lazy here.  Just like any sport, practice makes perfect.  But more importantly, “Perfect Practice” makes perfect.  Rehearsing doesn’t mean reading through your notes as fast as you can during TV commercials or reviewing your materials while driving to the seminar.  Rehearsing means actually giving the full presentation many times.  One of the best advisors I ever had the pleasure of working with once told me, “Matt, I give one seminar a week to stay sharp.”  Now I knew that he only conducted two public seminars a month so I was definitely curious.  When I asked him to elaborate further, he explained that if he didn’t have a public seminar in a given week, he gave the presentation in front of the mirror.  I don’t think I need to explain further as to how he became the best presenter I’d ever seen.  This is your seminar.  Own it.  Master it.
  8. Don’t Rush the Close – This is the most important part of your event. You likely paid thousands of dollars to get in front of a packed house. Your job is to convert as many of them as possible into appointments.  Make sure your close is filled with a sense of urgency.  Do your best to give generic examples of typical clients who you are able to create value for.  Quantify or “dollarize” the solutions you can provide.  Oh yea, and if you don’t have a packed house, rethink your seminar mail-house relationship.
  9. Don’t Be Stingy. Give a Door Prize! – As silly as it seems, the door prize can be used as an extremely effective appointment-gathering tool. If used correctly in conjunction with a good appointment request form, you will create a sense of urgency for them to book a time to come and see you.  If you don’t have a good strategy for doing this, contact me and I can tell you exactly how it works.
  10. Cut to the Chase – One of the biggest fears the seminar attendee has is, “What is this guy going to try and sell me?” It’s important to come right out of the gates (in your intro) with the “What’s in it for you, what’s in it for me” conversation. If you do this correctly it will allow the crowd to relax and enjoy the presentation, rather than having them sit on the edge of their seats waiting for the hammer to fall.

Have You Made These 3 Seminar Mistakes?

I’ve been bombarded lately by countless examples of advisors wasting their money on a seminar.  Why do you ask?  Well, it’s because most of them invested in a system that didn’t follow the basic rules of seminar marketing.  We all know, there are Do’s and Don’ts in this business, and when it comes to seminars there are some rules that shouldn’t be broken … unless you are OK with flushing your marketing dollars down the toilet.
  1. Seminar mistake #1: Letting somebody else give the presentation.  Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of good speakers out there, and arguably, there are folks that understand the subject matter of your next seminar better than you do.  Putting them up at the podium is a mistake.  Your positioning is destroyed.  They may make an attempt to put you in the spotlight as the “guy to go see” with any other questions, but at the end of the day, if they gave a compelling presentation, the audience is going to be drawn to the main speaker -- not you.  The solution:  Give the presentation.  Better yet, have somebody introduce YOU as the main speaker!
  2. Seminar mistake #2: Giving away a freebie just to get the appointment.  Have you ever attended one of those timeshare presentations JUST to get the free tickets to the local amusement park or dinner show?  If you have, then you undoubtedly remember sitting on pins and needles through the “Tommy Boy” hack job of a sales presentation.  “Get me to the end of this thing, I just want two free tickets, and please God, don’t let this guy go get the "Manager” so I have to listen to his sales pitch too!”  Imagine what prospects think sitting in your office if you are positioned as the sales pest that is going to show them the next magic investment or product, all with the bait of a software-generated report that they get just for sitting through the meeting.  If you give somebody an out, they usually will take it, especially if they have even an inkling that you are trying to sell them something.  The solution: Create real value at the podium.  Give them a REAL reason to come and see you, not some hokey freebie that you automatically devalue the instant it is offered up for nothing.  Create differentiation as to “WHY” they need to meet with you.  There are plenty of compelling ways to bring people into the office and have the positioning be in their favor, AND yours!
  3. Seminar mistake #3: Being a one trick pony.  I understand that most seminars have a main topic or theme.  It’s important that the audience knows and REMEMBERS that it’s not the ONLY THING that you specialize in!  OK, I’ll address the elephant in the room -- Social Security.  Everybody and their brother is doing Social Security marketing, and many are doing seminars.  If somebody is attending one of your events, and they leave thinking you are the Social Security planning guy/gal, then you’re done for.  Good luck transitioning them into a new planning client.  I’m not saying you can’t; I’m just saying if you do, it will be more difficult.  The solution: If they leave the room remembering that you are a comprehensive financial planner,” and Social Security is just one of the arrows in your quiver, the positioning is extremely different.  These prospects will be more apt to start talking about EVERYTHING in their financial life first, rather than just wanting to come in and talk to you about Social Security.
Let’s be honest.  Marketing isn’t cheap.  And if it is cheap, you should probably run for the hills because you typically get what you pay for.  Next time you are going to run a public event, make sure you are plugged into the right system, and make sure that system is tested, tried and true.